Tag Archives: Forschungszentrum Jülich

Artificial synapse courtesy of nanowires

It looks like a popsicle to me,

Caption: Image captured by an electron microscope of a single nanowire memristor (highlighted in colour to distinguish it from other nanowires in the background image). Blue: silver electrode, orange: nanowire, yellow: platinum electrode. Blue bubbles are dispersed over the nanowire. They are made up of silver ions and form a bridge between the electrodes which increases the resistance. Credit: Forschungszentrum Jülich

Not a popsicle but a representation of a device (memristor) scientists claim mimics a biological nerve cell according to a December 5, 2018 news item on ScienceDaily,

Scientists from Jülich [Germany] together with colleagues from Aachen [Germany] and Turin [Italy] have produced a memristive element made from nanowires that functions in much the same way as a biological nerve cell. The component is able to both save and process information, as well as receive numerous signals in parallel. The resistive switching cell made from oxide crystal nanowires is thus proving to be the ideal candidate for use in building bioinspired “neuromorphic” processors, able to take over the diverse functions of biological synapses and neurons.

A Dec. 5, 2018 Forschungszentrum Jülich press release (also on EurekAlert), which originated the news item, provides more details,

Computers have learned a lot in recent years. Thanks to rapid progress in artificial intelligence they are now able to drive cars, translate texts, defeat world champions at chess, and much more besides. In doing so, one of the greatest challenges lies in the attempt to artificially reproduce the signal processing in the human brain. In neural networks, data are stored and processed to a high degree in parallel. Traditional computers on the other hand rapidly work through tasks in succession and clearly distinguish between the storing and processing of information. As a rule, neural networks can only be simulated in a very cumbersome and inefficient way using conventional hardware.

Systems with neuromorphic chips that imitate the way the human brain works offer significant advantages. Experts in the field describe this type of bioinspired computer as being able to work in a decentralised way, having at its disposal a multitude of processors, which, like neurons in the brain, are connected to each other by networks. If a processor breaks down, another can take over its function. What is more, just like in the brain, where practice leads to improved signal transfer, a bioinspired processor should have the capacity to learn.

“With today’s semiconductor technology, these functions are to some extent already achievable. These systems are however suitable for particular applications and require a lot of space and energy,” says Dr. Ilia Valov from Forschungszentrum Jülich. “Our nanowire devices made from zinc oxide crystals can inherently process and even store information, as well as being extremely small and energy efficient,” explains the researcher from Jülich’s Peter Grünberg Institute.

For years memristive cells have been ascribed the best chances of being capable of taking over the function of neurons and synapses in bioinspired computers. They alter their electrical resistance depending on the intensity and direction of the electric current flowing through them. In contrast to conventional transistors, their last resistance value remains intact even when the electric current is switched off. Memristors are thus fundamentally capable of learning.

In order to create these properties, scientists at Forschungszentrum Jülich and RWTH Aachen University used a single zinc oxide nanowire, produced by their colleagues from the polytechnic university in Turin. Measuring approximately one ten-thousandth of a millimeter in size, this type of nanowire is over a thousand times thinner than a human hair. The resulting memristive component not only takes up a tiny amount of space, but also is able to switch much faster than flash memory.

Nanowires offer promising novel physical properties compared to other solids and are used among other things in the development of new types of solar cells, sensors, batteries and computer chips. Their manufacture is comparatively simple. Nanowires result from the evaporation deposition of specified materials onto a suitable substrate, where they practically grow of their own accord.

In order to create a functioning cell, both ends of the nanowire must be attached to suitable metals, in this case platinum and silver. The metals function as electrodes, and in addition, release ions triggered by an appropriate electric current. The metal ions are able to spread over the surface of the wire and build a bridge to alter its conductivity.

Components made from single nanowires are, however, still too isolated to be of practical use in chips. Consequently, the next step being planned by the Jülich and Turin researchers is to produce and study a memristive element, composed of a larger, relatively easy to generate group of several hundred nanowires offering more exciting functionalities.

The Italians have also written about the work in a December 4, 2018 news item for the Polytecnico di Torino’s inhouse magazine, PoliFlash’. I like the image they’ve used better as it offers a bit more detail and looks less like a popsicle. First, the image,

Courtesy: Polytecnico di Torino

Now, the news item, which includes some historical information about the memristor (Note: There is some repetition and links have been removed),

Emulating and understanding the human brain is one of the most important challenges for modern technology: on the one hand, the ability to artificially reproduce the processing of brain signals is one of the cornerstones for the development of artificial intelligence, while on the other the understanding of the cognitive processes at the base of the human mind is still far away.

And the research published in the prestigious journal Nature Communications by Gianluca Milano and Carlo Ricciardi, PhD student and professor, respectively, of the Applied Science and Technology Department of the Politecnico di Torino, represents a step forward in these directions. In fact, the study entitled “Self-limited single nanowire systems combining all-in-one memristive and neuromorphic functionalities” shows how it is possible to artificially emulate the activity of synapses, i.e. the connections between neurons that regulate the learning processes in our brain, in a single “nanowire” with a diameter thousands of times smaller than that of a hair.

It is a crystalline nanowire that takes the “memristor”, the electronic device able to artificially reproduce the functions of biological synapses, to a more performing level. Thanks to the use of nanotechnologies, which allow the manipulation of matter at the atomic level, it was for the first time possible to combine into one single device the synaptic functions that were individually emulated through specific devices. For this reason, the nanowire allows an extreme miniaturisation of the “memristor”, significantly reducing the complexity and energy consumption of the electronic circuits necessary for the implementation of learning algorithms.

Starting from the theorisation of the “memristor” in 1971 by Prof. Leon Chua – now visiting professor at the Politecnico di Torino, who was conferred an honorary degree by the University in 2015 – this new technology will not only allow smaller and more performing devices to be created for the implementation of increasingly “intelligent” computers, but is also a significant step forward for the emulation and understanding of the functioning of the brain.

“The nanowire memristor – said Carlo Ricciardirepresents a model system for the study of physical and electrochemical phenomena that govern biological synapses at the nanoscale. The work is the result of the collaboration between our research team and the RWTH University of Aachen in Germany, supported by INRiM, the National Institute of Metrological Research, and IIT, the Italian Institute of Technology.”

h.t for the Italian info. to Nanowerk’s Dec. 10, 2018 news item.

Here’s a link to and a citation for the paper,

Self-limited single nanowire systems combining all-in-one memristive and neuromorphic functionalities by Gianluca Milano, Michael Luebben, Zheng Ma, Rafal Dunin-Borkowski, Luca Boarino, Candido F. Pirri, Rainer Waser, Carlo Ricciardi, & Ilia Valov. Nature Communicationsvolume 9, Article number: 5151 (2018) DOI: https://doi.org/10.1038/s41467-018-07330-7 Published: 04 December 2018

This paper is open access.

Just use the search term “memristor” in the blog search engine if you’re curious about the multitudinous number of postings on the topic here.

Mega science (e.g., a Large Hadron Collider) for agriculture

They are not talking about smashing plants together at high speeds when they suggest creating a CERN LHC (European Particle Physics Laboratory Large Hadron Collider) for agricultural sciences. Rather, three scientists have published a discussion paper about enabling large scale collaborations amongst agricultural scientists in Europe, according to a Jan. 5, 2016 news item on phys.org,

The Large Hadron Collider, a.k.a. CERN, found success in a simple idea: Invest in a laboratory that no one institution could sustain on their own and then make it accessible for physicists around the world. Astronomers have done the same with telescopes, while neuroscientists are collaborating to build brain imaging observatories. Now, in Trends in Plant Science on January 5 [2016], agricultural researchers present their vision for how a similar idea could work for them.

Rather than a single laboratory, the authors want to open a network of research stations across Europe—from a field in Scotland to an outpost in Sicily. Not only would this provide investigators with easy access to a range of different soil properties, temperatures, and atmospheric conditions to study plant/crop growth, it would allow more expensive equipment (for example, open-field installations to create artificial levels of carbon dioxide) to be a shared resource.

A Jan. 5, 2016 Cell Press news release on EurekAlert, which originated the news item, expands on the theme,

“Present field research facilities are aimed at making regional agriculture prosperous,” says co-author Hartmut Stützel of Leibniz Universität Hannover in Germany. “To us, it is obvious that the ‘challenges’ of the 21st century–productivity increase, climate change, and environmental sustainability–will require more advanced research infrastructures covering a wider range of environments.”

Stützel and colleagues, including Nicolas Brüggemann of Forschungszentrum Jülich in Germany and Dirk Inzé of VIB and Ghent University in Belgium, are just at the beginning of the process of creating their network, dubbed ECOFE (European Consortium for Open Field Experimentation). The idea was born last February at a meeting of Science Europe and goes back to discussions within a German Research Foundation working group starting four years ago. Now, they are approaching European ministries to explore the possibilities for ECOFE’s creation.

In addition to finding financial and political investment, ECOFE’s success will hinge on whether scientists at the various institutional research stations will be able to sacrifice a bit of their autonomy to focus on targeted research projects, Stützel says. He likens the network to a car sharing service, in which researchers will be giving up the autonomy and control of their own laboratories to have access to facilities in different cities. If ECOFE catches on, thousands of scientists could be using the network to work together on a range of “big picture” agricultural problems.

“It will be a rather new paradigm for many traditional scientists, but I think the communities are ready to accept this challenge and understand that research in the 21st century requires these types of infrastructures,” Stützel say. “We must now try to make political decision makers aware that a speedy implementation of a network for open field experimentation is fundamental for future agricultural research.”

Here’s a link to and a citation for the paper,

The Future of Field Trials in Europe: Establishing a Network Beyond Boundaries by Hartmut Stützel, Nicolas Brüggemann, Dirk Inzé. Publication stage: In Press Corrected Proof DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.tplants.2015.12.003 Published Online: January 05, 2016

This paper appears to be open access.

Pushing some molecules around

A Nov. 6, 2014 news item on Nanowerk features a new means of manipulating molecules,

Jülich [Forschungszentrum Jülich; Germany] scientists have developed a new control technique for scanning probe microscopes that enables the user to manipulate large single molecules interactively using their hands. Until now, only simple and inflexibly programmed movements were possible. To test their method, the researchers “stencilled” a word into a molecular monolayer by removing 47 molecules. The process opens up new possibilities for the construction of molecular transistors and other nanocomponents.

For those who don’t know (this includes me), Forschungszentrum Jülich is an interdisciplinary research centre in Europe and a member of the Helmholtz Association of German Research Centres (Wikipedia entry).

An Oct. 31, 2014 Forschungszentrum Jülich press release offers more information about pushing molecules around,

“The technique makes it possible for the first time to remove large organic molecules from associated structures and place them elsewhere in a controlled manner,” explains Dr. Ruslan Temirov from Jülich’s Peter Grünberg Institute. This brings the scientists one step closer to finding a technology that will enable single molecules to be freely assembled to form complex structures. Research groups around the world are working on a modular system like this for nanotechnology, which is considered imperative for the development of novel, next-generation electronic components.

Here’s an image of scientist using the new technique,

Controlling scanning probe microscopes with motion tracking Copyright: Forschungszentrum Jülich

Controlling scanning probe microscopes with motion tracking
Copyright: Forschungszentrum Jülich

The press release goes on to describe the motion tracking technique,

Using motion tracking, Temirov’s young investigators group coupled the movements of an operator’s hand directly to the scanning probe microscope. The tip of this microscope can be used to lift molecules and re-deposit them, much like a crane. With a magnification of five hundred million to one, the relatively crude human movements are transferred to atomic dimensions. “A hand motion of five centimetres causes the sharp tip of the scanning probe microscope to move just one angstrom over the specimen. This corresponds to the typical magnitude of atomic radii and bond lengths in molecules,” explains Ruslan Temirov.

Controlling the system in this way, however, requires some practice. “The first few attempts to remove a molecule took 40 minutes. Towards the end we needed only around 10 minutes,” says Matthew Green. It took the PhD student four days in total to remove 47 molecules and thus stencil the word “JÜLICH” into a perylenetetracarboxylic acid dianhydride (PTCDA) monolayer. PTCDA is an organic semiconductor that plays an important role in the development of organic electronics – a field that makes it possible to print flexible components or cheap disposable chips, for example, which is inconceivable with conventional silicon technology.

Small spelling mistakes can even be corrected without difficulty using the new method. A molecule removed by mistake when creating the horizontal line in “H” was easily replaced by Green using a new molecule that he removed from the edge of the layer. “And exactly this is the advantage of this method. The experimenter can intervene in the process and find a solution if a molecule is accidentally removed or if it unexpectedly jumps back to its original position,” says the physicist.

This is a sample of the researchers’ writing,

JülichMolecules

A word with just 47 molecules Copyright: Forschungszentrum Jülich

For anyone who’s followed the nanotechnology scene for a while, this will bring to mind Don Eigler and his project where he moved 35 xenon atoms with a then-new technology, a scanning tunneling microscope, in 1989 to form the letters I B M, where he was employed (Wikipedia entry).

The press release contrasts the earlier accomplishments with this latest ‘writing’ project,

The interactive approach makes it possible to manipulate molecules that are part of large associated structures in a controlled manner. In contrast to single atoms and molecules, the manipulation of which using scanning probe microscopes has long been routine, larger molecular assemblies were almost impossible to manipulate in a targeted manner until now. The reason for this is that the bonding forces of the molecules, which are bound to all of the surrounding neighbouring molecules, are almost impossible to predict exactly. Only during the experiment it becomes clear what force is required to lift a molecule and via what path it can be successfully removed.

The experience gained will help to speed up time-consuming operations. “In future, self-learning computers will take over complex molecule manipulation. We are now gaining the intuition for nanomechanics that is so essential for this project using our novel control system and quite literally by hand,” says Dr. Christian Wagner, who is also part of the Jülich group.

Here’s a link to and a citation for the paper,

Patterning a hydrogen-bonded molecular monolayer with a hand-controlled scanning probe microscope by Matthew F. B. Green, Taner Esat, Christian Wagner, Philipp Leinen, Alexander Grötsch, F. Stefan Tautz, and Ruslan Temiro. Beilstein J. Nanotechnol. 2014, 5, 1926–1932. doi:10.3762/bjnano.5.203 Published 31 Oct 2014

This is an open access paper as of Nov. 10, 2014. Note: An open access status can change.

Extending memristive theory

This is kind of fascinating. A German research team based at JARA (Jülich Aachen Research Alliance) is suggesting that memristive theory be extended beyond passive components in their paper about Resistive Memory Cells (ReRAM) which was recently published in Nature Communications. From the Apr. 26, 2013 news item on Azonano,

Resistive memory cells (ReRAM) are regarded as a promising solution for future generations of computer memories. They will dramatically reduce the energy consumption of modern IT systems while significantly increasing their performance.

Unlike the building blocks of conventional hard disk drives and memories, these novel memory cells are not purely passive components but must be regarded as tiny batteries. This has been demonstrated by researchers of Jülich Aachen Research Alliance (JARA), whose findings have now been published in the prestigious journal Nature Communications. The new finding radically revises the current theory and opens up possibilities for further applications. The research group has already filed a patent application for their first idea on how to improve data readout with the aid of battery voltage.

The Apr. 23, 2013 JARA news release, which originated the news item, provides some background information about data memory before going on to discuss the ReRAMs,

Conventional data memory works on the basis of electrons that are moved around and stored. However, even by atomic standards, electrons are extremely small. It is very difficult to control them, for example by means of relatively thick insulator walls, so that information will not be lost over time. This does not only limit storage density, it also costs a great deal of energy. For this reason, researchers are working feverishly all over the world on nanoelectronic components that make use of ions, i.e. charged atoms, for storing data. Ions are some thousands of times heavier that electrons and are therefore much easier to ‘hold down’. In this way, the individual storage elements can almost be reduced to atomic dimensions, which enormously improves the storage density.

Here’s how the ions behave in ReRAMs (from the news release),

In resistive switching memory cells (ReRAMs), ions behave on the nanometre scale in a similar manner to a battery. The cells have two electrodes, for example made of silver and platinum, at which the ions dissolve and then precipitate again. This changes the electrical resistance, which can be exploited for data storage. Furthermore, the reduction and oxidation processes also have another effect. They generate electric voltage. ReRAM cells are therefore not purely passive systems – they are also active electrochemical components. Consequently, they can be regarded as tiny batteries whose properties provide the key to the correct modelling and development of future data storage.

In complex experiments, the scientists from Forschungszentrum Jülich and RWTH Aachen University determined the battery voltage of typical representatives of ReRAM cells and compared them with theoretical values. This comparison revealed other properties (such as ionic resistance) that were previously neither known nor accessible. “Looking back, the presence of a battery voltage in ReRAMs is self-evident. But during the nine-month review process of the paper now published we had to do a lot of persuading, since the battery voltage in ReRAM cells can have three different basic causes, and the assignment of the correct cause is anything but trivial,” says Dr. Ilia Valov, the electrochemist in Prof. Rainer Waser’s research group.

This discovery could lead to optimizing ReRAMs and exploiting them in new applications (from the news release),

“The new findings will help to solve a central puzzle of international ReRAM research,” says Prof. Rainer Waser, deputy spokesman of the collaborative research centre SFB 917 ‘Nanoswitches’ established in 2011. In recent years, these puzzling aspects include unexplained long-term drift phenomena or systematic parameter deviations, which had been attributed to fabrication methods. “In the light of this new knowledge, it is possible to specifically optimize the design of the ReRAM cells, and it may be possible to discover new ways of exploiting the cells’ battery voltage for completely new applications, which were previously beyond the reach of technical possibilities,” adds Waser, whose group has been collaborating for years with companies such as Intel and Samsung Electronics in the field of ReRAM elements.

The part I found most interesting, given my interest in memristors, is this bit about extending the memristor theory, from the news release,

The new finding is of central significance, in particular, for the theoretical description of the memory components. To date, ReRAM cells have been described with the aid of the concept of memristors – a portmanteau word composed of “memory” and “resistor”. The theoretical concept of memristors can be traced back to Leon Chua in the 1970s. It was first applied to ReRAM cells by the IT company Hewlett-Packard in 2008. It aims at the permanent storage of information by changing the electrical resistance. The memristor theory leads to an important restriction. It is limited to passive components. “The demonstrated internal battery voltage of ReRAM elements clearly violates the mathematical construct of the memristor theory. This theory must be expanded to a whole new theory – to properly describe the ReRAM elements,” says Dr. Eike Linn, the specialist for circuit concepts in the group of authors. [emphases mine] This also places the development of all micro- and nanoelectronic chips on a completely new footing.

Here’s a link to and a citation for the paper,

Nanobatteries in redox-based resistive switches require extension of memristor theory by I. Valov,  E. Linn, S. Tappertzhofen,  S. Schmelzer,  J. van den Hurk,  F. Lentz,  & R. Waser. Nature Communications 4, Article number: 1771 doi:10.1038/ncomms2784 Published 23 April 2013

This paper is open access (as of this writing).

Here’s a list of my 2013 postings on memristors and memristive devices,

2.5M Euros for Ireland’s John Boland and his memristive nanowires (Apr. 4, 2013 posting)

How to use a memristor to create an artificial brain (Feb. 26, 2013 posting)

CeNSE (Central Nervous System of the Earth) and billions of tiny sensors from HP plus a memristor update (Feb. 7, 2013 posting)

For anyone who cares to search the blog, there are several more.

Memristors and dogs

They’ve managed to recreate Pavlov’s classic experiment with dogs and feeding bells using an electronic circuit and teaching it to respond to a stimulus just as the dogs learned to respond. From the May 8, 2012 news item on Science Daily,

The bell rings and the dog starts drooling. Such a reaction was part of studies performed by Ivan Pavlov, a famous Russian psychologist and physiologist and winner of the Nobel Prize for Physiology and Medicine in 1904. His experiment, nowadays known as “Pavlov’s Dog,” is ever since considered as a milestone for implicit learning processes. By using specific electronic components scientists form the Technical Faculty and the Memory Research at the Kiel University together with the Forschungszentrum Jülich were now able to mimic the behavior of Pavlov`s dog.

I found this image on the May 8, 2012 news release webpage at the University of Kiel (Germany) website,

The experiment called “Pavlov’s Dog” shows that acoustic stimulations can cause physical reactions. Scientists of Kiel University redesigned this mental learning process. Source: Kohlstedt

Also from the May 8, 2012 news release on the University of Kiel website,

“We used memristive devices in order to mimic the associative behaviour of Pavlov’s dog in form of an electronic circuit”, explains Professor Hermann Kohlstedt, head of the working group Nanoelectronics at the University of Kiel.

Memristors are a class of electronic circuit elements which have only been available to scientists in an adequate quality for a few years. They exhibit a memory characteristic in form of hysteretic current-voltage curves consisting of high and low resistance branches. In dependence on the prior charge flow through the device these resistances can vary. Scientists try to use this memory effect in order to create networks that are similar to neuronal connections between synapses. “In the long term, our goal is to copy the synaptic plasticity onto electronic circuits. We might even be able to recreate cognitive skills electronically”, says Kohlstedt. The collaborating scientific working groups in Kiel and Jülich have taken a small step toward this goal.

The project set-up consisted of the following: two electrical impulses were linked via a memristive device to a comparator. The two pulses represent the food and the bell in Pavlov’s experiment. A comparator is a device that compares two voltages or currents and generates an output when a given level has been reached. In this case, it produces the output signal (representing saliva) when the threshold value is reached. In addition, the memristive element also has a threshold voltage that is defined by physical and chemical mechanisms in the nano-electronic device. Below this threshold value the memristive device behaves like any ordinary linear resistor. However, when the threshold value is exceeded, a hysteretic (changed) current-voltage characteristic will appear.

“During the experimental investigation, the food for the dog (electrical impulse 1) resulted in an output signal of the comparator, which could be defined as salivation. Unlike to impulse 1, the ring of the bell (electrical impulse 2) was set in such a way that the compartor’s output stayed unaffected – meaning no salivation”, describes Dr. Martin Ziegler, scientist at the Kiel University and the first-author of the publication. After applying both impulses simultaneously to the memristive device, the threshold value was exceeded. The working group had activated the memristive memory function. Multiple repetitions led to an associative learning process within the circuit – similar to Pavlov’s dogs. “From this moment on, we had only to apply electrical impulse 2 (bell) and the comparator generated an output signal, equivalent to salivation”, says Ziegler and is very pleased with these results. Electrical impulse 1 (feed) triggers the same reaction as it did before the learning. Hence, the electric circuit shows a behaviour that is termed classical conditioning in the field of psychology. Beyond that, the scientists were able to prove that the electrical circuit is able to unlearn a particular behaviour if both impulses were not longer applied simultaneously.

My most recent posting (and I have many) on memristors is from April 19, 2012 where I mentioned an artificial synapse developed with them at the University of Michigan and also noted that HP Labs has claimed it will be releasing ‘memristor-based’ products in2013.

The May 8, 2012 news item on Science Daily includes the full citation for the team’s paper and a link to it (the paper is behind a paywall).

Carbon and neural implants

I’ve been meaning to do more about brains and implantable devices for a while so this Mar. 2, 2012 news item on Nanowerk comes at a timely moment,

The blind see, the lame walk, and the deaf hear: in the future, neural implants could replace destroyed sensory cells in the eye or ear – a dream come true for humanity. One of the greatest challenges yet to be addressed is designing the interface between medical technology and human tissue. In order to overcome the limitations of existing models, scientists from Forschungszentrum Jülich and eleven other institutions involved in the NeuroCare project, which kicked off on 1 March 2012, will develop novel biointerfaces made of carbon.

After reading some of Dr. Gregor Wolbring’s materials (last mentioned in my Aug. 30, 2011 posting on ‘ableism’) I’m not so sure about this business of making the ‘blind see’, etc. For example, there’s been  a lot of discussion in the deaf community about cochlear implants and whether or not there should be an automatic assumption that to be ‘normal’, one must hear. Wolbring’s latest writing on these topics is here in a Feb. 23, 2012 posting on the Nordic Network on Disability Research blog. Excerpted from the posting,

I coined a couple of years ago the term Ability Studies (Wolbring, 2008) which I defined, among others, to investigate: (a) the social, cultural, legal, political, ethical and other considerations by which any given ability may be judged, and which may lead to favouring one ability over another; (b) the impact and consequence of favouring certain abilities and rejecting others; (c) the consequences of ableism in its different forms, and its relationship with and impact on other isms [racism, ageism, sexism, etc.].

I think Wolbring asks some very provocative questions in light of the enthusiasm so often expressed in descriptions of greater therapeutic interventions. From the news item,

For several years, biomedical researchers have been working on implants to compensate for damage to the nervous system caused by an accident or illness. They focus on tools that correct problems with basic cognitive abilities, such as a loss or impairment of eyesight or the ability to hear. In addition, they may also be used to treat traumatic injuries to the spine, drug-resistant epilepsies, psychiatric disorders, and chronic neurodegenerative diseases.

However, the technology is still in its infancy. What makes it so difficult to implement is primarily connecting living tissue and electric circuits, with flexible cell structures containing water on one side and rigid solid electrodes on the other side. NeuroCare therefore uses materials based on carbon as they are better suited to medical purposes than the metals or silicon conventionally used.

In order to optimize the contact to biological tissue, the researchers are planning to experiment with flexible materials and test different surface structures on the nanometre scale. Within the next three years, the project coordinated by the French Commissariat à l’Energie Atomique et aux Energies Alternatives (CEA) will produce prototypes of retinal, cortical and cochlear implants, which will then be refined until they can be brought to the market in the following ten years.

The NeuroCare (Neuronal NanoCarbon Interfacing Structures) project is described in a more technical fashion on the Cordis website where contact information for various partners in the project is also offered.